I wrote this earlier in the year for my mod class. Definitely worth a share. What do you think about Faulkner of Fitzgerald?

Unreliable Narrators and Limited Point of View in Faulkner and Fitzgerald

            William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” both use limited point of view to move their respective narratives. The difference between Faulkner and Fitzgerald’s texts is how the limited POV is used. Faulkner uses POV in As I Lay Dying to contrast and compare characters, sometimes against themselves, in the south. Fitzgerald, in contrast, uses similarly unreliable narration to skew POV in “Winter Dreams” in order to emphasize the thoughts of the lead character above the secondary ones.

The fifteen voices of As I Lay Dying, spread across fifty-nine chapters, paint a collaborative portrait of the poor southern family in rural Mississippi, and the factors they engage with on a day to day basis. If the reader requires each character’s dialogue to stay true to their perception of the character, then they will find Faulkner’s utilization of POV to be inconsistent. Stephen M. Ross in “”Voice” in Narrative Texts: The Example of As I Lay Dying” focuses, momentarily, on the dialogue spoken in the novel. Ross writes: “the novel disallows a notion of “true.” By criteria of verisimilitude the narrative discourse is inconsistent and implausible, so much so that Faulkner has been accused of botching the first-person point of view, or at the very least of turning third person into first person by arbitrarily substituting “I” for “he” or “she.”” (302). In fact, Ross notes that many of the characters in Faulkner’s novel have moments when their narrative speech could not be true to their character. A keen example is Darl’s last bit of narration: “Darl is our brother, our brother Darl. Our brother Darl in a cage in Jackson where, his grimed hands lying light in the quiet interstices, looking out he foams” (Faulkner 791). Darl now speaks about himself in the third person as a result of descending into lunacy, begging the question: What is Darl’s true character? He is Faulkner’s pawn, a conduit for detail and a tool to move the narrative.

  1. Scott Fitzgerald also has a Darl, an unreliable primary set of eyes that influences the text too greatly. In “Winter Dreams” the narrator follows the life of Dexter Green and relays his encounters with Judy Jones. The entire story is third person limited, with the unnamed narrator solely following Dexter and relaying his perceptions on money, culture, and, most importantly, Judy. The bias towards Dexter is most obvious at the beginning of the last section. Fitzgerald writes: “This story is not his biography, remember, although things creep into it which have nothing to do with those dreams he had when he was young. We are almost done with them and with him now. There is only one more incident to be related here and it happens seven years father on” (673). The text reads like a break from a lecturer or a story teller, with the insertion of the second person ‘we’ and the noting that there is ‘only one more incident to be related.’ It begs the question of the autonomy of Dexter. Because the narrator is creating an active engagement between the reader and the author in the study of Dexter, the reader is more likely to criticize his misogyny, his raw ambition, and his emotional hesitation. It can also be claimed that this is Fitzgerald allowing himself reprieve of the actions of his characters. If we are surveying this last thing, then we surveyed everything, and his action in perception of the story is just as much ours as it is his.

The obvious difference between the selected Faulkner and Fitzgerald pieces comes from the breadth of the narrative scope already established. But in that surface difference a similarity exists. Faulkner uses the many, his 15 first-person(-ish) narrators, to assess the place of the family in context to society. Fitzgerald uses his failed third person narrator (as per the second person we fault) to assess gender in context to society and time. Both writers use their unreliable narrators with limited points of view to create worlds that are a macrocosm of perceived societal issues.




Works Cited

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume D. 8th. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 698-794. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Winter Dreams.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume D. 8th. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 659-675. Print.

Ross, Stephen M. “”Voice” in Narrative Texts: The Example of As I Lay Dying” PMLA, Vol. 94, No. 2 (Mar., 1979), pp. 300-310. Web. 1/31/16.

One Comment on “Unreliable Narrators and Limited Point of View in Faulkner and Fitzgerald

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